The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, held its annual policy conference in Washington, DC this past weekend. This conveniently coincided with a visit by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who came to town to address a joint session of Congress, a bold move initiated by speaker of the House John Boehner that stirred up quite the controversy.
Our CODEPINK team held events all weekend as part of our coalition action ‘Shut Down AIPAC.’ We blocked the entrance to the AIPAC conference at the Washington Convention Center on Sunday, and again on Monday evening for the gala. On Monday afternoon, the CODEPINK team attended an event at which Rabbi Boteach spoke to members of AIPAC. Before the meeting began, Medea, Anna, and friends unfolded several banners reading ‘Stop the Siege of Gaza’ and ‘Stop AIPAC’s Siege on Congress.’ Along with the banners, the activists held up peace signs with their hands, remaining silent.
The room however, did not remain silent. The audience erupted with shouts of ‘Go Home’ and ‘You don’t belong here.’ The activists and the banners were escorted out, but the shouting did not stop. Instead, it was redirected at myself and my colleague, Nalini. Although we had not outwardly demonstrated, our support for our colleagues and mere presence in the room caused a disruption. Several people were taking photos of us and video-taping us. The woman beside repeatedly scolded and degraded me for my disrespect, accusing me of being “a privileged little girl who has hate in her heart and doesn’t know struggle.” I just kept thinking, if only this woman really knew me…
Just because I don’t support the killing of defenseless Palestinians does not mean that I am anti-Semitic. I don’t support the arbitrary killing of Israelis either. I am anti-violence - and I am not alone in these sentiments. The CODEPINK team and the coalition of activists participating in ‘Shut Down AIPAC’ were out in the freezing cold, rain or shine, day and night, not because ‘we have hate in our hearts,’ but exactly the opposite.
Our goal is to expose the money that AIPAC funnels into our government, and make ourselves heard. AIPAC and its support of violent Israeli policies is not representative of the morals on which the United States was founded upon. We do not support the actions Israel takes in regards to Palestine, nor do we support the war Israel could spark with Iran.
The day Bibi Netanyahu was due to address Congress, we had an early start at a protest in conjunction with the Jewish group Neuturei Karta and the Answer Coalition. The protest was very symbolic, as it featured a large group of Rabbis with signs reading ‘Netanyahu does not speak for me,’ ‘Zionism is not Judaism,’ and ‘Netanyahu Go Home.’ These people are proud of their faith and obviously not anti-Semitic, but they too, disagree with the oppression of the Palestinian people and Israel’s aggression towards the country of Iran.
Netanyahu’s speech, which mentioned everything from the Game of Thrones to Robert Frost, mainly focused on the nuclear capabilities of Iran, and how it is essential the US take serious action to inhibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Although the US has been conducting successful negotiations with Iran for years now, Netanyahu urged Congress to take “the difficult path” - the path of war - when we should be taking the road less traveled - the path of diplomacy.
One thing that has remained constant throughout the past few days, both at the AIPAC events and in Netanyahu’s speech, was the reminder that the Jewish people have been persecuted throughout history. Despite the accusations by the woman in Congress I sat next to, I genuinely respect their struggle and feel profoundly for the difficulties their people have faced in the past. However, I do not think that Israel or AIPAC should use the Holocaust as justification for further violence in order to “defend the Jewish people.”
On another note, the Israeli-Palestine conflict reminds me a lot of the troubles in Northern Ireland. Having studied conflict resolution in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I am able to draw many parallels between the two conflicts.
Although both conflicts are both incredibly complicated, the fundamental differences lie in ethnicity, religious beliefs, views of history, and interests for the future of their people. The Protestants and the Catholics in Northern Ireland were able to move past centuries of violence, massacres, and atrocities once both sides recognized the human costs of their fighting. In a common desire to put an end to the murders of people’s fathers, brothers, sons, and daughters in Northern Ireland, regardless of religion, the Catholics and the Protestants alike agreed to move forward together in an effort to create a long lasting peace.
Engaging in dialogue this weekend with everyone from Congresspeople to AIPAC lobbyists to Palestinian rights activists, I found that the commonality among them was the desire to stop the killing of innocent people, whether those innocent people were Israelis targeted by Hamas or Palestinians killed by Israeli bombs.
Neither Israel nor Palestine should think that violence will be a solution; it’s simply not going to work. In addition, the US should stop funneling extraordinarily generous amounts of military aid to Israel ($3.1 billion dollars annually), which contributes to the ongoing violence. Instead, the US should take steps, as it did in Northern Ireland, to really be an honest broker and facilitate talks with the leaders of Israel and Palestine instead of fueling the fire.
In the Northern Irish example, Senator George Mitchell was instrumental in drafting and implementing the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the document that marks the end of the conflict and the beginning of the ongoing peace process. Perhaps if AIPAC, America’s pro-Israel lobby, didn’t have such a stronghold on our Congress, more Congresspeople would be volunteering to follow in the exemplary footsteps of Sen. George Mitchell, and show the power of the United States to succeed in diplomacy.
Diplomacy is a powerful tool in today’s modern global society. Secretary of State John Kerry is leading groundbreaking nuclear peace talks with Iran. Both the United Nations and the oversight body, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have confirmed that Iran is complying and cooperating. Israel, an enemy of Iran, is worried that the success of a deal with Iran would threaten the American-Israel friendship and is using the Holocaust as a reminder that Jews have been prosecuted for decades to instill fear in its people.
In 2002, Netanyahu addressed Congress about the growing threat of Iraq in the Middle East, claiming Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, which turned out to be false. Netanyahu said the US was obligated to take immediate military action. Now, 12 years later, the destruction we caused to the Iraqi people, infrastructure, and society left a power vacuum in the region, the prime environment for extremist groups like ISIS to seize power.
As a friend of Israel, it is important that the United States not buy into this culture of fear that Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to create. Increased militarization only leads to greater hostility. We can still maintain a diplomatic friendship with Israel, while also continuing along the diplomatic path with Iran.
In addition, the United States has just as much of a moral obligation to support the Palestinian people from the human rights abuses as it does to support the rights of Israelis. The two responsibilities are not mutually exclusive, but groups like AIPAC urge US priority be placed on the latter.
Senator George Mitchell was hugely successful in fostering diplomatic relations in Northern Ireland, which is evidence that it can be successful again now - both with Iran and with Palestine.
It’s time that we urge our friends to echo our sentiments for peace, instead of buying into their fear and hostility. To Congress, we say don’t listen to Netanyahu! He scared us and pushed us into the war with Iraq in 2003. Instead of taking the "difficult path" as Netanyahu urges, let us take the path less traveled and remember the successes our country has had when it engages in diplomacy.